My favorite part of Passover is the ecumenical celebration of deliverance from oppression. Gathering with Messianic Jews and experiencing the Seder meal through the lens of LDS doctrine, we unite together to honor the God who does for us what we cannot do for ourselves. It is a sharing of history, an effort at peace, and a time of gratitude. It would have been enough for God to rescue us, but He also restores us to the full promises He has made.
Many families and communities also discuss current, personal or political themes of liberation and its implications for all people. Everything points to deliverance from bondage and freedom from oppression and to the hope that we will all be free from what keeps us captive, whether physically or emotionally or spiritually. Celebrating freedom reminds us to use it for good and for the benefit of others.
As with the best celebrations, Passover comes with a fabulous meal stuffed with meaning: the Seder. When the Savior celebrated the “Last Supper” with his disciples, that was the Seder meal of Passover celebrating the deliverance of the Israelite people from bondage in Egypt (Exodus 5 and 7-11). The Seder meal recounts the story, reminding us of our dependence upon God. We are led through mortality (the wilderness) by prophets sent to help the people become holy. There must initially be a setting apart through obedience, such as those who were recommended to paint their doorpost with Lamb’s blood, that qualifies one to begin the spiritual journey. This is an interactive covenant, where the small and simple acts of obedience are my token that I want to be on that journey and my deliverance is His sign to me that He knows my choice.
The Israelites had to leave in such a hurry that there was no time to wait for the bread to rise. Now in preparation for Passover, the house is thoroughly cleaned of any leavening that may still be in the house. This is where we get the term “spring cleaning.” Spiritually from a Messianic perspective, the point is to review our lives in preparation for a greater degree of repentance and notice what needs to be removed, cleansed, or “covered” by the atonement of the Savior. As I prepare to celebrate Passover, I consider what I can do to improve my conscious preparation for partaking of the sacrament each week, and respond to promptings for cleansing from the Spirit this week particularly.
The Kiddush is the first blessing of the Seder meal and is done before each person pours the drink for the next person, around the table. The urchatz is the washing and drying of hands for the person sitting next to you. This is to represent the freedom and majesty we have been given as a covenant people, and how we must treat others with the same generosity and mercy and kindness as we have been given. Kiddush literally means “sanctification,” and it is a blessing that reminds us we must both keep and remember the laws of God. This is how we are sanctified, by both keeping and remembering what He has said. Keeping the law means not doing things we are not supposed to do, and remembering the law means doing the things to prepare ourselves to be obedient. It also represents how we must serve each other and help each other be clean, and in that way points to our pre-mortal covenant: Jehovah promised to atone for us, and we promised to testify of that atonement.
The food is also symbolic. The karpas are herbs, like parsley or lettuce, dipped in salt water or vinegar, and then shaken to see the tears from when the people were still in slavery. The charoset is an apple and nut chutney to remind us of the bricks of clay the Israelites had to make while they were slaves. Later we eat the maror, parsley or romaine with horseradish, to remind us of our bitter experience when in bondage. The sweet chutney is eaten on matzo to remind us how much better redemption is than bondage.
The unleavened matzo bread, reminding us the Savior is the Bread of Life (John 6), is pricked with holes before baking, reminding us of the piercings the Savior suffered from the crown of thorns. The matzot are wrapped in white, like the shroud of the tomb, priestly garments, and the Sacrament cloth. There are three of these crackers used, representing Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. It is the middle one, Isaac, that is broken, reminding us of his physical salvation when the Lord provided a lamb so Abraham did not have to offer his son up on the altar, and our spiritual salvation when Heavenly Father did give His Son as a sacrifice for us. The finding of hidden matzo at the end of the meal reminds us of His resurrection, a long awaited promise now fulfilled.
Classic to Hebrew culture, a lesson comes through the asking and answering of questions after the pattern of 1 Nephi 11. There are four questions asked about what makes the night of Passover different than other nights, and through the answers the story is again retold and the symbolism is taught. This moment of Seder, it is not enough to simply remember the Jews were delivered from bondage in Egypt. It is vital in this moment to make it personal and reflect on your life and how you have been delivered from bondage. It reminds me not only of what happened to those who came before me, but also teaches me what is to come for me.
Together, everyone recites "Had the Holy One, blessed be He, not taken out our forefathers from Egypt, then we, our children, and our children’s children would still be enslaved to Pharaoh in Egypt."
The recitation reminds us of Moses 5:11, which says, "And Eve, his wife, heard all these things and was glad, saying: Were it not for our transgression we never should have had seed, and never should have known good and evil, and the joy of our redemption, and the eternal life which God giveth unto all the obedient.”
If the Lord had not provided the atonement as part of the plan, or without the “fall,” we would be stuck in bondage without the ability to choose or progress. Without the atonement, we would be lost to the bondage in which we enslave ourselves, but He has delivered us, and we are on our way home to the promised land (celestial-ness).
But we must choose it. Jewish tradition says only one-fifth of Israelites were saved because the rest did not act in faith to paint their doorposts with the blood of the Lamb (reminiscent of the 10 virgins and of having a Temple recommend) or else chose not to be redeemed. They chose to stay behind and blend in with the Egyptians. They did not want to do the things required to be “set apart” as covenant people. Because this is significant in Jewish history, the story of the Four Sons is also told at this time in the Seder. The moral of the story is that even if we appear to be good and think we are wise, we can still lose our faith by neglect if we do not do the basic things asked of us, and these simple things physically and spiritually set us apart and make us holy.
There is then a Seder song, the Dayenu, with 15 verses that each end with the phrase or chorus “it would have been enough,” saying that what the Lord has done is sufficient for our needs and more so. It is a song of praise and gratitude, and it means that just being delivered out of bondage would have been enough. Each verse represents something God did for His people. The first five are about being delivered out of bondage, the next five are about the miracles He did, and the last five are about the closeness God gave them. After each verse, the chorus is the word “dayenu” sung over and over.
It is good to take a moment and consider how the Lord has delivered you, what miracles He has done for you, and what closeness you have to Him. When was the last time you said “it would have been enough,” and pondered in awe at the blessings He has given you?
There are four cups of wine or juice with the Seder meal, and the third one symbolizes redemption. Thanks is given for the meal and for the company, as Jews give thanks after the meal, rather than before as Christians do. They also do not bless the food, rather thanking God for providing it. The third cup is held up for a prayer for redemption, or in thanks for redemption, and is much like the Sacrament cup for Messianic Jews. It points to the Messiah and His redemption of us, if we will just believe in the blood of the Lamb (atonement) in the way the Jews believed enough to paint their doorposts with it, and we should apply it in our lives every day.
It is this same cup that signifies a marriage contract, the betrothal that is more than an engagement. The groom lifts the cup to the bride, and she drinks from it. This establishes the marriage covenant, even though the marriage itself is not yet fulfilled. This is profound for us in understanding Jesus as lifting the cup up to us, His church, promising that His promises – the rest of our covenant (His atonement, His return, our return to Heavenly Father) will be fulfilled.
Also, as Luke 22:20 says it was after the passover meal when Jesus raised the cup to institute the Sacrament, we believe it was this third cup He raised to say this is the new testament, or new covenant. What an amazing and powerful moment! Here Jesus is explicitly saying this cup not only commemorates the sacrificial lamb that was painted on the doorposts so that the children were saved, but also that it points to him from now on, and His great atoning sacrifice for us all.
That also means that in Matthew 26:29, when Jesus says He will not drink the next cup, He is referring to the fourth cup of Passover. The fourth and final cup was known as the cup of restoration. The Savior told the disciples He would not drink the fourth cup with them but would be back later to drink it, or that He would later restore His church and priesthood.
In Jewish custom, this is acted out literally. There is always an extra plate set at the Seder table, and it is for the prophet Elijah. When it is time for the fourth cup, the cup of the restoration, Elijah’s cup is lifted, and a child goes to the front door and literally opens it to see if Elijah has come to join them. From the perspective of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Elijah has come and the restoration has already happened and is in process. We are already in the latter days, preparing for the return of the Lord (Malachi 3:23).
It is in this part of the Seder we celebrate that the Lord has claimed us as His people – now that we have been cleansed, sanctified, and filled. It comes from Exodus 6:6-7, with “I will take you to for me as a people” being the important piece. This goes back to the marriage covenant, in the third cup, with this fourth cup being the fulfillment of it. The restoration is the reclaiming of us as His people, the House of the Lord, with them made holy by his atonement.
When the fourth cup of juice is poured, everyone recites a song of praise in which the people cry out to the Lord three times. The Seder is closed with a shout of “Next year, in Jerusalem!” It is a hope of the coming of the Messiah, the re-establishment or restoration of the Jews, and the millennial kingdom of God on the Earth. It is a time of wishing others well, of rejoicing with them, of happiness and peace, of protection and provision, of answers from the Lord, and of confident hope in His coming soon.
Emily Christensen lives with her husband in Oklahoma. She has a Ph.D. in marriage and family therapy and is pursuing a second degree in Hebrew and Jewish studies. Her blog is www.housewifeclass.com, and her email is [email protected].